The Government in collaboration with the private sector is set to introduce hybrid rice seeds for commercial production next season.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) announced that farmers in the country could start planting hybrid rice seeds from the next season which will raise production and lower import bills.
AATF Project Manager Dr Sanni Kayode said after years of research locally, the country is now ready to introduce the method to increase rice production for commercial purposes.
Speaking during a field mission at the Hola Breeding Station in Tana River County on Thursday, Dr Kayode said the government and private sector players have embarked on sensitization campaign to educate rice farmers and millers on the hybrid seeds developed in the area ahead of planting after approval by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).
“The hybrid seeds would raise rice yields from 20 bags to 50 bags per acre and hence raise incomes for farmers,” said AATF official.
He avers that “the hybrid matures in 100 days instead of the 120 to 150 days for the varieties in the market.”
Dr Kayode said the usage of hybrid rice seed production was also aimed at lowering Kenya’s rice import bill, creating employment and encouraging youth to venture into rice farming as agribusiness.
Saying that they were working closely with the government, seed companies and millers in the breeding project, Dr Kayole explained that the idea was to ensure farmers produce quality and uniform grain that is good for millers.
He said AATF initiated the development of hybrid seeds with the Hybrid East Africa breeders at the Hola station, adding that breeders have used the two-line hybrid rice technology to produce the hybrid seeds.
He noted that the two-line system was reliant on temperature and that hybrid rice germplasm was suitable with weather conditions in Africa.
A researcher with Hybrid East Africa and Afritec Services John Mann said they have made a breakthrough following research and come up with several hybrids that would benefit farmers in the country.
“We have made progress after developing superior quality seeds that farmers can now plant,” said Mr Mann who has been in rice research for more than 33 years in the United States and Kenya.
Speaking at the same function, Head of the rice promotion programme at the Ministry of Agriculture Dr Mary Mutembei said the government was encouraging increased production of rice to reduce the annual import bills from the current Kshs. 25 billion.
She said the country was importing 90% of its annual consumption despite having good climate, soils and adequate water for growing the crop.
“We have good soil and water. We are working with the private sector to increase rice production. Our challenge is to reduce the high rice import bill that stands at Kshs. 25 billion a year,” she said.
Rice consumption in the country has been growing rapidly and is expected to reach 1,292,000 tons by 2030.